Vanderbilt has come a long way in the past three years, and that hard work has resulted in some individual honors as the preseason wears on. Ten Commodores earned All-SEC honors from prognosticator Phil Steele, led by first-teamers Jordan Matthews, Carey Spear, and Andre Hal.
The honors were a significant upgrade from 2012, when only two Commodores made Steele's list. That year, Matthews and running back Zac Stacy were placed on the third team. Those two provided the motor for an upgraded Vanderbilt offense that won nine games last season, and that improvement must have caught Steele's attention. The 'Dores had six players on Steele's 2011 preseason list and four in 2010. None were first team selections.
Matthews, who led the SEC in receptions last season, is expected to be the key piece of a Vanderbilt offense that will replace their starting quarterback and tailback in 2013. He was joined on Steele's list by teammate Chris Boyd (third team), giving the Commodores an All-Conference tandem at wideout. The pair is expected to help make Austyn Carta-Samuels's transition to starting QB as easy one this fall.
Andre Hal, who Mel Kiper named one of the top 10 cornerbacks in this year's draft class, will lead a stout secondary that emerged as a defensive force as 2012 wound down. Safety Kenny Ladler (third team), tackle Walker May (fourth team), and linebackers Chase Garnham and Karl Butler (fourth team) will help make the 'Dores a destructive force. Underclassmen Caleb Azubike and Jake Sealand could end up challenging for postseason honors as well if they continue to show the development that made them key players as true freshmen.
The honors are a giant step forward in the ongoing redemption story of kicker Carey Spear. The kicker had been removed from field goal duty just two seasons earlier after mid-season problems left him in a big-time slump. He came back stronger than ever in 2012, though, displaying high-level accuracy on his field goals and the insane commitment to special teams tackles that has made him a fan favorite in Nashville. Spear connected on 20 of his 24 field goal attempts and was perfect inside of 44 yards last season. He's become an equally dangerous weapon on fourth down as he's been on kickoff returns.
The full Vanderbilt honors are below. Vandy football kicks off the 2013 CFB season with a Thursday night home game against Ole Miss on August 29.
Phil Steele's All-SEC teams: